It's the person holding the ball, however, that is going to make all the difference to whether 2012-13 is going to be a success or a struggle for the University of Wisconsin. Through an intrasquad scrimmage and an exhibition game, there certainly are some bright spots to ponder.
With junior guard Josh Gasser watching the live stream from his bed a day after ACL surgery, redshirt freshman George Marshall scored seven of Wisconsin's first 22 points and was one of five Badgers in double figures, helping No.23 Wisconsin cruise to a 96-44 victory over UW-Oshkosh in the Badgers lone exhibition contest.
Senior Jared Berggren had 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting to lead all scorers, as Wisconsin stayed a perfect 9-0 against WIAC teams.
Wisconsin used 11 of its 14 healthy players in the first half, opened up a 44-18 halftime lead and went on a 26-3 run over a nine minute stretch, hardly a surprise going against a UW-Oshkosh team with a new head coach installing a new system for a program that finished 0-16 in the WIAC last season.
It wasn't the same level of competition Wisconsin will see a week from Wednesday at No.10 Florida or, arguably, this Sunday in the season opener against Southeastern Louisiana, but statistics didn't matter for a team that is searching to find a starting point guard 11 days after its projected starter and Big Ten All-Defensive Team selection was lost for the season on a freak non-contact injury.
Wisconsin used George Marshall, Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust at the point guard position, as UW coach Bo Ryan understandably rolled through a lot of different combinations. Even true freshman Zak Showalter did some work at the point guard late in the second half.
"We went a little smaller so we could guard the dribble drives and some of the fade screens," said Ryan. "They realized that every team that is going to come in here, let alone Oshkosh, is going to bring their best."
All three main options had their high points. Brust scored 12 points – showcasing his 3-point range and ability to drive and score in the paint. Jackson had some hiccups with the ball, but showed good awareness – his alley-oop pass to Berggren for a reverse dunk was well executed – and he continues to be lethal with his mid-range jumper.
Three days after Ryan said he ‘handled himself well' during the team scrimmage, Marshall – the 5-11, 185-pound redshirt Chicago native - again looked comfortable in the starting role. He finished 5-for-7 shooting with one assist and one turnover.
"He shot it fairly well again. That's good to see," said Ryan or Marshall. "He made good decisions. He guarded the ball well. He moved his feet, but he's going to have to keep getting better. That's what he's here for."
Jackson - the 6-2, 213-pound Westerville, Ohio, native – spent the summer working on a checklist given to him by associate head coach Greg Gard on how to improve his game. Last season, Jackson - son of former 14-year NBA veteran Jim Jackson - played in 17 of 36 games, making 7 of 19 shots from the field (36.8 percent) and averaged 5.4 minutes, 1.1 points and 0.9 rebounds per game.
He raised the bar during Wisconsin's Red and White scrimmage, drilling his first six shots and finishing the game 7-for-8 from the field with 16 points, three assists and no turnovers in 39 minutes. Wednesday, he led UW's guards with a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
He was one of seven players with at least six points, balance UW will need once it gets into Big Ten play.
"If there's only one guy or two guys you are counting on, it's pretty hard," Ryan said. "You have to have contributions from other people. It's like last year. When contributions starting coming from the front court, we were a lot better January to March then we were November and December."
Not only does Wisconsin have to manage without Gasser, the Badgers are still anxiously awaiting forward Mike Bruesewitz to return from his gruesome right leg laceration suffered October 9.
In addition to Berggren's production, Ryan Evans led UW with 10 rebounds and Sam Dekker was held scoreless for the first 16 minutes, but finished with five points, five rebounds, three assists and no turnovers.
"I think we have a pretty versatile lineup this year," said Evans. "We have guys as big as Sam who can play the two. You have a guy like me who could probably play three through five. Jared could go out to the four. George could play any position. It's just going to be interesting. Everybody is playing well. Everybody is shooting well."
Zach Bohannon – who many expect to contribute after sitting out last season following a transfer from Air Force – grabbed six rebounds in only eight first-half minutes, including four off the offensive glass that helped him get to the free throw line. He finished with seven p0ints and eight rebounds (six offensive) in 15 minutes.
"Zach can do those things," said Ryan. "He's a grinder around the basket. He's going to help us that way this year."
After trimming down his frame considerably in the offseason, sophomore Frank Kaminsky showed aggression on the blocks and a soft touch from the perimeter, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting.
Of Wisconsin's 96 points, 55 came from the front court and 41 from the backcourt as the Badgers shot 57.1 percent overall and all 14 players who dressed scored.
"I think they are ripe for a great season," said UW-Oshkosh coach Pat Junckem, whose team led 7-0 before UW flexed its muscles. "They are going to be very competitive in the Big Ten, as they always are."